What are the risks of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)?

The risks of getting an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) include:
  • Bleeding or infection where the pulse generator was inserted
  • Problems related to the anesthetic
  • Nerve or blood vessel damage
  • Problems caused by electronic devices
Unnecessary Electrical Pulses
The most common problem with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) is that they can sometimes give electrical pulses or shocks that aren't needed.
A damaged wire or a very fast heart rate due to extreme physical activity may trigger unnecessary pulses. Unnecessary pulses also may occur if you forget to take your medicines.
Children tend to be more physically active than adults, and younger people who have ICDs are more likely to receive unnecessary pulses than older people.
Pulses delivered too often or at the wrong time can damage the heart or trigger an irregular, sometimes dangerous heartbeat. They also can be painful and emotionally upsetting. If this occurs, your doctor can reprogram your ICD or prescribe medicines so the unnecessary pulses occur less often.
Risks Related to Surgery
Although rare, some ICD risks are linked to the surgery used to place the device. These risks include:
  • Swelling, bruising, or infection at the area where the ICD was placed
  • Bleeding from the site where the ICD was placed
  • Blood vessel, heart, or nerve damage
  • A collapsed lung
  • A bad reaction to the medicine used to make you sleep during the surgery
Other Risks
People who have ICDs may be at increased risk for heart failure. Heart failure is when your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. It's not known for sure whether an ICD increases the risk of heart failure or whether heart failure is just more common in people who need ICDs.
This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.